Welcome!

If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Slender Man (2018)

AUGUST 10, 2018

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I pay zero attention to "Creepypasta" type nonsense, so I never heard of the Slender Man story until I saw a news story about a pair of dumbass 12 year old girls who stabbed their friend in an attempt to appease this made-up boogeyman and "live with him in his mansion" (the girl they stabbed survived and recovered, thankfully). Since then there have been other, less severe incidents stemming from people thinking this guy is a real thing, but since they're all in jail or institutionalized Sony will have trouble reaching their target audience for their film about it, i.e. idiots that buy into the idea that he's real, which is the only way I can see anyone being scared by his presence in this woefully undercooked flick.

The main problem with the film is that it seems to assume we all know the story well, or, at least, that it's as universally known an urban legend as the man with the hook or the "calls are coming from inside the house!" kind of scenarios. But, you know, it's not - it's an internet thing with origins only dating back less than a decade ago; even "Leroy Jenkins" has a more storied pedigree. The movie gives a bit of context early on, when our group of four teenaged girls amuse themselves during a sleepover by going online and trying to summon him (prompting the usual "What's (this thing that the others know about)"/90 seconds of exposition conversation that peppers just about every supernaturally driven horror movie post-The Ring), but after that he just shows up for jump scares. Imagine if Candyman never gave Tony Todd anything to do beyond show up in underlit backgrounds, with no backstory or connection to the protagonist, and... well, you'd probably still have a better movie than this.

In fact I got the sneaking suspicion that at some point in development, the writer planned to do a fictionalized version of the real-life stabbing tragedy, but either got cold feet or was forced to change it by the powers that be (possibly even after shooting, since the trailer shows two major sequences that are not in the film). The plot really kicks off when one of the four, Katie (Annalise Basso from Oculus), disappears during a field trip to a cemetery - but the scene actually showing that (kidnapping? murder?) is jarringly absent from the film, cutting from the girl just looking at one of the tombstones to a few hours later, when everyone is wondering where she is. Given that it's only about 20 minutes into the movie - i.e. time for a traditional scare scene - its absence is very awkward, but would be necessary in the long run if one or more of the other girls had something to do with her disappearance. Plus, throughout the movie main girl Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles) seems to be dodging direct questions about the disappearance, as if she knew more than she was letting on, and apart from nightmares is conspicuously left alone by Slender Man who keeps appearing to the two remaining girls.

(SPOILERS AHEAD!)

So it all seems to be heading toward some sort of half-assed High Tension thing (most tellingly in a scene where she tries messaging the same mysterious Slender Man website contact who has been talking to the others, only to get no reply. HMMMMM...), but then it gets dropped in a rushed, incredibly anticlimactic sequence where her sister goes into a coma for some reason and she goes off to confront Slender Man, who... sucks her into a tree, I guess? Then there's an epilogue about how he spreads like a virus, and the film ends. So did Katie get sucked into a tree too? Why did their other friend Chloe just turn into a zombie of some sort? Why was Hallie acting so suspicious every time someone asked about Katie's whereabouts? It's clunky AF, and joins the film's already overstocked collection of problems.

Such as the fact that it's not even remotely scary. And no, I'm not talking about me simply not being scared - the theater had a good sized crowd for a weekday matinee (half full-ish) with plenty of the target teens among them, and I didn't hear a single gasp/scream during the entire film (the D- Cinemascore suggests this was not an anomaly). Almost all of the scare scenes play out identically: someone hears a creaking/stick breaking kind of sound, the image gets a bit warbly thanks to a bunch of After Effects filters, and then they see Slender Man (Javier Botet, of course) standing in a corner or something before he starts to move toward them, often accompanied by CGI tentacles and/or spider-legs. Then they either wake up because it was a dream or they disappear from the narrative and our heroine seemingly doesn't care much. The only effective moment in the entire movie comes about an hour in, when Hallie starts making out with her Miles Teller-y boyfriend and starts hallucinating him making all these weird faces, which made me laugh because if they kept going and had sex, he'd just be making *other* weird faces.

Another insurmountable issue is that our characters are the least interesting batch of horror teens in ages; you'd have to go back to C-listers from the early '80s slasher heyday to find a group this less distinguished. The only girl who seems interesting is the one that disappears first, leaving us with three that might as well be interchanged from scene to scene. There's some early attempts at what you'd think would be foreshadowing, such as Hallie's running prowess and her little sister's desire to be a part of their group, but neither element is mentioned again, and I honestly know less about Hallie's other two friends (one of whom is played by Joey King, who is 0-2 lately between this and Wish Upon) after spending 90 minutes with them. And pretty much *only* them, as the male characters and parents become literal background extras as the film goes on, to the point where I wasn't sure if Hallie's mother was in the hospital or if it was just a nurse since they didn't bother to give a closeup of the woman (or names to either parent; even though Michael Reilly Burke is a familiar enough character actor he's just "Hallie's Dad" in the credits). Not that calling him "Bill" would solve the movie's problems, but if you're going to minimize every other character to this degree, why can't the ones that are in focus be more developed?

It's possible that they DID have all of that characterization and I simply couldn't see it, however. Since Peter Hyams is in director's jail I would have to go back to AVP: Requiem to find a major release film this murky and underlit, with two would-be standout sequences being so dark I literally had trouble telling what was happening. I even wondered if something was amiss with the transfer itself, but every now and then we were treated to a nice establishing shot of the northern Massachusetts locale, so I know they could photograph things properly and that it wasn't the theater projecting it wrong. And I often wondered why they even cast Botet at all since his interactions with cast members were so brief and often overshadowed by his CGI appendages, making it a pointless decision to use a real actor at all when you consider how many of his appearances are in blurry backgrounds that could have been achieved just as easily with visual FX.

You see how bad this movie is? It has me saying "CGI would be better". Ugh. The theaters in the Milwaukee area where the stabbing occurred have declined to show the film out of respect for the residents who were affected by it; it would be a good thing if every other town joined them in solidarity. So you're safe, Winchester, for this is right now the frontrunner for worst major release horror movie of the year. And don't see that as a sort of "challenge"; I assure you this is not the "fun" kind of bad like Gotti or whatever - it's just a slog. Just watch the documentary, which is what I wish I had done instead.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Meg (2018)

AUGUST 4, 2018

GENRE: MONSTER, PREDATOR
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (PREVIEW SCREENING)

For almost as long as we've had movie websites devoted to rumors and info about upcoming films, The Meg has been in development. It has been kicking around since 1997 at various studios starting with Disney, gone through any number of directors (including Jan de Bont and Eli Roth), and pretty much seemed like a movie that would never actually get made, like The Crow remake. But score one for persistence, as it's finally been made with director Jon "Where the hell is National Treasure 3" Turteltaub and a cast led by Jason Statham, in his first top-billed role for this type of big budget summer blockbuster (the costs are reportedly around $200m, and to think, Sony once refused to let him star in the $40m Ghosts of Mars because he wasn't a big enough draw). But only because the shark is unbilled.

The shark, of course, is the REAL draw here, and it's certainly an impressive sight. Due to the PG-13 rating we aren't always treated to the full view of its carnage, but the VFX wizards have put their full resources (and budget) into making sure it looks good when it makes its big appearances, so that you fully believe Statham could, at any moment, kick it in the face. And unlike the giant shark in Jurassic World and its sequel, it doesn't just pop up for two scenes (that get spoiled in the trailer anyway), there are a number of face-offs between it and Statham's crew throughout the movie, building to the big beach scene where it has a smorgasbord awaiting it. Again, it's PG-13, so don't get TOO excited (Piranha 3D it ain't), but it caused enough damage and racked up enough of a body count to satisfy me.

But to be fair, adventurous fun is the goal here, not blood and guts, and last I checked Jaws didn't have much of that sort of thing either. And unlike most shark movies, the heroes feel somewhat responsible for the thing's wrath of terror, as it was trapped under a layer of (science mumbo-jumbo) in the Mariana Trench, perfectly happy with the other fish that were down there, but then the scientists come along and put a hole in that layer to go explore. The Meg (short for Megalodon) attacks them and breaks through the hole, so it's on them to stop it before it reaches the mainland. Along with Statham (a rescue diver with the obligatory tragic past) there's the researchers who run the underwater station, the rich moron that paid for it all, a computer hacker (because of course there is), a security kinda guy... it's very Crichton-y with regards to its crew, and like the best Crichton novels it's not readily apparent who will live and who will die.

Except, of course, Statham, who has one too many close encounters with the shark that really should have been trusted to another character. The end of the film, when he goes on a potential suicide mission, has the necessary suspense, because maybe they WILL kill off their action icon hero (worth noting that this was in development at Disney around the same time as Armageddon). But early on, when they're just trying to put a tracker on it and things like that, there are two sequences in a row where Statham's pretty much the only one in immediate danger, and it doesn't quite work. Cliff Curtis is introduced as Statham's "old buddy" type and is seemingly the muscle for whatever problems usually arose before they unleashed a prehistoric shark, but for some reason I don't think he ever once goes in the water, which is a waste - he's exactly the kind of actor who could have this kind of glorified cameo role and die first, but also stick around until the climax and maybe get offed there.

But again: FUN! You don't WANT any of these folks to die, because they're all pretty charming and they have a good camaraderie. I wouldn't say I got sad when anyone died, but I never rooted for their demise either. Even the requisite asshole guy, a doctor who thought Statham was crazy when he claimed he saw the giant shark in the first place, has his merits and ultimately makes peace with Statham (it's more satisfying and believable than Dom Toretto forgiving him, at least). And the actors all seem to be fully aware what kind of movie they're in; they're not winking at the camera exactly, but there's a slight twinkle in their eye as they give their occasionally ridiculous dialogue the gravitas it needs - they're all more Sam Neill than Jeff Goldblum, in other words. And Statham gets to use his underutilized comedic chops on occasion, which seems to please him, and he also gets to make cute with the mandatory little kid, reminding me yet again that he's pretty much the only one of these "Expendable" action guys who hasn't made a kiddie flick ye (but keeps dipping his toes in with things like this and the baby sequence in F8).

The 3D is also quite fun, and worth the extra 3 bucks or whatever it is now. The conversion tech has come a long way in the past 8-9 years, so it's largely free of those weird errors that take away from the fun (like when someone's arm seems to grow 10 feet long because the conversion software screwed up), and there are just enough "in your face" gags to make audiences feel they got their money's worth without the movie becoming a chore in 2D (like chunks of Friday the 13th Part 3, which screened in 3D the night before at the same theater - they're doing a festival). Hell I even ducked at one "comin at ya!" moment, and I can't even remember the last time that happened (though to be fair I rarely bother with 3D anymore), and at times I regretted not waiting until this weekend to see the film in "4D", which adds water spray and motion seats to the deal. I know it's August and your summer blockbuster budget is probably depleted, but I assure you this is a movie designed to be engaged with in as silly a manner as possible.

The screening was paired with Jaws 3D, which was just as horribly dull as I thought it was in 2D (I ended up walking out; the old school 3D gives me a bit of a cross-eye and while it was worth it for Jason's hockey mask debut, it most certainly was not to watch a bunch of people walk around at Sea World), and Deep Blue Sea, which didn't need any kind of gimmick to be awesome. I still consider that the alpha and omega of shark movies that are not Jaws, but The Meg stacks up admirably with it, and as long as you can get past the PG-13 aspect (Deep Blue Sea was gloriously R-rated at times) I think if you're a fan of that one you'll have a good time with this. I don't know how well it'll hold up at home by yourself (and most likely in 2D), but with a packed crowd of people laughing and cheering at the right moments (nearly everything Winston Chao says had our audience howling) it's pretty much the last summer movie that will offer up those kind of popcorn thrills. Maybe it wasn't worth twenty years of development, but hey, at least they finally figured it out and made it work. Take THAT, Dark Tower movie!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Cured (2017)

JULY 24, 2018

GENRE: ZOMBIE
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

This isn't a complaint (so, not a "first world problem") but I have a stack of Blu-rays near my couch that never seems to dwindle; for every one I manage to watch, I seemingly get three or four more, either for review, winning at trivia, or just gifted from friends who maybe forgot I don't watch this junk every day anymore. It's kind of a source for stress since I find myself unable to get rid of anything I haven't watched (or at least tried to), but the nice thing is that every now and then I find a minor gem like The Cured in that pile, justifying my whole "I gotta keep these" mentality. And now I can pass it on to someone with a "This is pretty good!" instead of a "Here, you throw this away" attitude.

And I want to stress that it is good, despite my plans to get rid of it instead of adding it to the permanent collection. I have made some great strides toward being someone who only owns the movies they plan to watch at least once again, preferably a couple times, as opposed to just owning every movie I like. Life's too short and I obviously don't get to watch as many movies as I'd like to anymore, so the idea of keeping a movie that I'm never going to watch again is unrelated to its merit. In fact, in a growing sub-sub-genre of zombie movies concerning cured zombies attempting to fold themselves back into society, it might be my favorite, or at least tied with The Returned (click the link before you argue - there's a few things with that title so you want to be sure we're thinking of the same one!). And even though it didn't have a lot of traditional zombie action, I think it would have made Romero proud, as it's one of the more socially conscious zombie films I've seen in quite a while.

As the opening text tells us, there was a typical kind of "infected" (think 28 Days Later, not undead rising from the graves) outbreak that nearly decimated Ireland, but a cure was found and 75% of the infected people are pretty much human again (nightmares and some nasty PTSD are the lingering after effects). The other 25%, "The Resistant", could not be cured for reasons unknown, and continue to be quarantined and are set to be humanely executed so that the virus can be definitively wiped out for good. However, some of the "Cured" feel a kinship with these people (who act more or less like traditional movie zombies; cannibalism is even mentioned, setting them apart from the 28 Days Later types they otherwise resemble) and mount protests to keep them alive, even resorting to more dangerous territory like throwing molotovs at empty (OR ARE THEY?!?!) homes of the military types that plan to wipe them all out.

It's not hard to see the parallels to real world issues regarding both immigration and people who are condemned because of their circumstances. Yes, the people who were infected are now cured and seemingly pose no threat, but they did terrible things when they were infected, and it isn't easy for our human characters (who were never infected) to separate the person they see before them now and the person that likely murdered people during their infected state. This is a very sore subject for our main characters, as our hero Senan now lives with his brother's wife Abbie (Ellen Page) and helps take up some of the responsibilities formerly held by his brother, who was killed during the outbreak. Since Senan's friend Conor seems to have a particular interest in Abbie (not a romantic one) and has advised Senan "not to tell her" about *something*, it doesn't take much of your brainpower to realize they are probably the ones responsible for the man's death. Abbie says more than once that the cured people shouldn't be treated as murderers when they had no control over their actions (and it's not like they asked to be infected), but can she hold up that resolve when it hits that close to home?

It's an interesting dilemma, and kind of the inverse of one I see happening a lot today, where people who voted for You Know Who now regret it because his monstrous policies and unchecked racist agenda have affected people they care about. People think they have the right answer for everyone else, but when it actually affects them, suddenly their tune changes. It's also an interesting "What if it were me?" kind of plot point, because I honestly don't know how I'd react to someone who hurt my family if they did so while under the influence of this kind of virus. Obviously I wouldn't BLAME them as I would a drunk driver or idiot with a gun, but could I let them stay in my home, or be near my other loved ones? It's an impossible thing to deal with, so I guess it's a good thing zombies aren't real as I'll never have to know.

Then there's the military folk, who seem to think that the cured people are just as unworthy of living as the ones who are still infected, akin to how certain people in charge seem to believe that if you're from a particular Arab nation you're automatically a terrorist. Hero Senan is clearly no threat to anyone, but as a former infected he has to meet with some army asshole much like an ex-con has to meet with a parole officer, and the man treats him with a similar amount of contempt, confident that Senan and the thousands of other cured people will end up reverting back to murderous thugs. I won't spoil whether or not they do, but if you're not particularly interested in the more dramatic side of things then the final act of the movie should scratch your itch, as there's plenty of action and even some minor gore, plus an honest to god perfectly executed jump scare that got me about as good as the one in Dawn of the Dead where the zombie poses as a mannequin and lunges at Roger out of nowhere.

But honestly, I was more into the drama parts of the film. I've seen the action beats from the film's final 30 minutes before, and while they're well done I wouldn't say they were particularly compelling, and the film ends on a rather vague note that I didn't appreciate (because it involves a kid, and dammit, I'm a very sensitive father! I WANT CLOSURE!!!). But even though there have been other "the zombies are OK now" stories in the past, the numerous allusions to the increasingly terrifying real world (all the more impressive considering this was made in 2016) and genuinely compelling tragic circumstances surrounding our protagonists made it far more worthy of my attention than I was expecting from a "pile" movie. I've kind of lost the plot on zombie fare as of late; I stopped watching Walking Dead a few seasons ago and the last undead movie I reviewed here was over a year ago (which means it might very well be the last one I saw not counting rewatches of old faves), so I guess I'd be open for another NOTLD ripoff with a bunch of people holed up in a (fill in the blank) fighting off zombies and each other, but I'd be much more likely to get up to speed if there were more movies like this out there, where plot and characters take precedent over how many different ways a zombie could be dispatched, and the "evil" humans had an actual argument to consider.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)

JULY 20, 2018

GENRE: TECHNOLOGY, THRILLER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

The thing about a gimmick movie is that once the novelty wears off (20 minutes or so, tops) it has to justify not only the gimmick, but the narrative itself. The thing about a SEQUEL to a gimmick movie is that it has to improve on everything just to break even, as it no longer has the novelty going for it. Luckily, Unfriended: Dark Web is up to the task, and as a bonus it's entirely unrelated to the first, so if you haven't seen it you can go in "blind" to this one and get the thrill of seeing the gimmick actually work while seeing a better movie to boot. If you have seen the original, then yeah it's gonna feel a bit like deja vu for a while, but thankfully they hook you in relatively early with its new villain and scenario, while implementing the limitations of the desktop in new ways.

It also avoids one of the problems of the first film, which is that our protagonists were kind of scummy. The usual love triangle crap, the bullying, the constant shit-talking... sure, it's all "normal" stuff but with so much of the movie dwelling on these personal flaws, I can't say I was too broken up about any of them getting offed by the supernatural presence, and it made it very much a "teen" movie. This time they're not only older (read: more tolerable to older audiences), but also a pretty charming and genuinely caring group of friends (old college pals), with no hidden secrets from one another and very little squabbling. When Betty Gabriel (Blumhouse's MVP between this, Upgrade, Purge 3, and of course Get Out) announces she's engaged to Rebecca Rittenhouse's character, everyone is super happy for them and congratulatory - if such a thing happened in the first film they'd be broken up by the end of it, and everyone would talk shit about them in sidebar convos.

And they're all innocent of the crime in question this time around; our protagonist decides to help himself to a laptop that has been left in a lost and found for weeks (so he's kind of a thief, yeah, but 3-4 weeks? They ain't coming back!) and it turns out it belongs to a guy who is deep into the subtitular Dark Web, in this case folks that watch (and pay for) snuff films. So the owner wants the laptop back and threatens to kill the hero's friends (all Skyping for their monthly online game night) if he doesn't. Sure, it's hokey, but under the guise of hacking, it's actually scarier than the first film's all purpose supernatural nonsense, because while I don't think a ghost can take control of my laptop I do believe a hacker could if he wanted to. I don't know enough about hacking to know their limitations, but it all seems plausible enough, at least in theory. At one point the hacker manages to splice together a tape of one of the friends' Vlogs to make it sound like he's threatening to shoot up a mall, prompting the police to come to his house and open fire - it's something that's actually happened more than once (they call it "swatting", and it's had tragic outcomes) but the speed in which the hacker does it, seemingly able to find the exact words he needs from the videos to cut together his message, seems like he has a ghost helping him. So you still gotta suspend some disbelief, but in *general* it's a much more believable threat than the first one, so coupled with the more engaging cast, it makes for an overall better experience.

As for the desktop display (if you're somehow in the dark - the entire movie unfolds on a view of the protagonist's desktop, with Skype, Facebook, etc. giving it its content), it works pretty much the same way, with the hero moving windows around and occasionally (unnaturally) pausing his actions and circling the cursor around things the filmmaker wants to make sure you read/register. Since the plot revolves around snuff videos there's an easy way to break up long talking stretches by having someone play one (though I think if you've seen the trailer you've pretty much seen them all) and new hero Matias isn't as fidgety as the first film's Blaire, so it's less "busy" than the original, as well. And they do a switcheroo of one of my favorite little details in the first, where we see Blaire wrestle with how to say things (and in some cases, not end up saying them at all) by typing and erasing - here we see Matias' girlfriend occasionally starting to type a response (via the little ... animation we're all familiar with by now) only to walk it back.

She's doing that because they're fighting over his inability to commit to learn sign language, as the woman is deaf. He keeps making attempts for her to understand him, such as making an app that converts what he types into video signs, but apparently won't make much effort to learn to read her signs, asking her to type out everything during their Skype convos, in other words cares more about himself being understood than understanding her. This has a few uses in the movie, such as when the hacker attacks her roommate and she is unable to hear it, and also plays a part in one of the film's endings - because there are two, and so far there's no way to tell which one you're getting (I won't spoil details, but one involves a van and the other involves a grave, and I got the van one). With no way to know which one you're getting it's a pretty dumb gimmick, if you ask me, as I can't imagine anyone would want to buy a ticket and sit through the movie again just in case they got the other one, and I fear it will just lead to people wandering in near the film's climax, hoping to see the other one after their other movie got out. Please don't make this a "thing", studios.

Basically, if you've ever considered putting some tape over your laptop's built-in webcam, this is the movie for you. The first one tackled teen suicide and bullying, i.e. real problems, but also ones that maybe not everyone could identify with, which might lessen its ability to unnerve you (plus, again, it was a crafty ghost instead of a living human killer). But everyone's probably had a hacker scare of some sort by now (including me; a few weeks ago I got an email from AMC thanking me for buying five tickets to a movie in Maryland), so the whole "this is how fucked you can be" approach really works well, and once again they use real-world apps and sites as opposed to a totally made up internet like you see in goofy shit like The Net. When the killer calls, they're able to use our familiarity with the Skype and Messenger sounds to their advantage, and maybe give us pause the next time we hear them coming from our own computers. I don't know if I'd ever want to watch it again, but it got the job done as a "cyber thriller" and proved that there could be a running franchise out of this concept so long as they find new plots/characters to revolve around instead of trying to build up some stupid mythology like the Paranormal Activity movies did.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (2018)

JULY 14, 2018

GENRE: ANIMATED, MONSTER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

My son Will turned 4 in May, and a few weeks later we dubbed him old enough to try taking him to a movie (Incredibles 2, for the record). He was mostly perfect - he forgot to use his whisper voice once or twice and got a little restless in the middle when it hit a long stretch without any action, but otherwise I was very impressed with how well he behaved, considering he rarely sits through an entire movie at home. So I felt comfortable taking him to see Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, since it was about 30 minutes shorter and not as likely to be bogged down with plot (plus, even if it did, it'd be monsters talking instead of boring humans). And as an added bonus, I could finally see one of them without feeling like a creepy weirdo, watching a kids' movie by myself because it qualified enough as "horror" for me to write it up.

Which I guess makes this his first horror movie? He hasn't seen the others, far as I know, but he seemed to enjoy it. He liked Blobby, and was bizarrely fascinated about the Invisible Man - every time he appeared (via floating glasses) Will felt compelled to announce "He's invisible!" to everyone in earshot, prompting another reminder that he had to whisper (luckily some other kids around us were chatty too so it's not like he was the only disruption, but still. MY SON WILL RESPECT THE THEATER!). He told me later that he was scared at one point, but I'm not sure where because he didn't say so at the time, but it was a few days ago and he hasn't reported any nightmares, so woo! If you're worried about your own kids, I would say it's the least "scary" of the trio, thanks in part to the new setting - a sunny cruise ship as opposed to the dark hotel. There's a big squid monster near the end, and an opening chase on a train that's a bit relatively intense, but otherwise it's mostly just Dracula and his pals having fun on the ship and also Drac falling in love with the cruise director. If they can handle the others, they should be more than OK for this one (and if they haven't seen them this would be the easiest to recommend for their first attempt; in fact, it's the first one to not have "scary images" in its MPAA rating).

OK now that the parents guide is done with, what did I think? It was pretty fun; I liked the second one better though, as this took a step back with regards to giving the other monsters anything to do, which was my main issue with the first film. So once again the other guys - Frank, the Wolfman, Invisible Man, etc - are just kind of there for the most part, having very little to do with the main plot and also not getting any significant little subplots of their own. The only exception is Wayne (Steve Buscemi) and his wife, who have like a hundred little werewolf babies and discover the cruise has a daycare (it prompts the best joke for adults in the movie; when the daycare director says they get the kids back at the end of the day, Wayne mutters that it's "better than nothing"). I thought this would prompt a "life lesson" kinda thing about them going off on dates and such only to realize they missed the kids, but no - instead, the villain knocks them out a little while later and they're forgotten for the rest of the film. No one even notices they're gone, and they just kind of reappear at the end unceremoniously. It's like the writers forgot to follow up and didn't bother to fix it.

Speaking of the writers, it's kind of amusing that (in my opinion) the best of the three films - the 2nd one - is the only one that has a writing credit from Adam Sandler. That one DID give the other guys something to do, and had the most laughs, so for all the shit he takes from his critics it's interesting that these films could seemingly benefit from his writing talents. The plot this time around is pretty fun in theory - Van Helsing's granddaughter Ericka wants to live up to her family legacy and kill Dracula (and all the other monsters) but finds herself falling for him. Van Helsing is also around, but he's basically a monster too; a head on a robot thing (his body mangled from so many encounters with Dracula). But there's only so much they can do with just that, and the other subplots either die out like the aforementioned Wayne one, or just aren't all that interesting or funny, such as the ongoing gags concerning Drac's grandson bringing his giant "puppy" on board and passing him off as a monster named Bob.

So it just kind of gets by on the strength of its occasional setpieces, such as when Drac and Ericka have a sort of tango around various booby traps (most of which hit him anyway; he's immortal so it doesn't matter), or when the gang plays volleyball with a ball that can apparently feel pain and fear, screaming the entire time. I also quite liked the flight to the cruise, which was run by Gremlins, in a plane that was falling apart as it flew - can we get a spinoff movie about these things? Director Genndy Tartakovsky doesn't throw in as many sight gags as I seem to remember from the others, though it's still a trip to just let your eyes wander around the frame during the big crowd scenes and enjoy all the various monster designs, and the animation itself continues to improve. I caught some of the first movie on FX or one of those the other day, and it's kind of striking how much the designs have changed over the three films, as they look more cartoonish (in a good way) than their original incarnations. The script may not have been up to snuff, but the animators were bringing their A-game, at least.

Oh, if you're more of a fan of Andy Samberg than Sandler, don't even bother - Johnny is barely in it, and I doubt Samberg took more than 2-3 hours tops to record his lines, most of which come in the climax. Selena Gomez as Dracula's daughter Mavis gets a lot of screentime, but otherwise it's pretty much all just Sandler and Kathryn Hahn (Ericka), with some added occasional fun courtesy of the great Chris Parnell, who plays the fish that staff the cruise ship (he voices all of them). It's kind of a bummer that Sandler has assembled such a great cast (Mel Brooks also returns, for I think three lines) and wastes most of them, but I'm sure the kids won't care much. And there is nary a Rob Schneider or Nick Swardson in sight, so let's take the good with the bad.

But hey, all that matters in the end is if the kids have fun, as there's no law that they need to appeal to the adults (though it would be nice since we're the one buying the tickets and popcorn). I promised myself I wouldn't push my love of horror on my kid like some other parents do, and I'm already seeing signs that he's not naturally inclined to love it anyway (he seemed more into Incredibles, for sure). But if he wants to watch "Daddy movies" I'm glad there's gateway stuff like this that I can get him started with, familiarizing him with the various kinds of monsters and also showing him that they're not always scary. Plus, even if it wasn't up to the relative highs of the 2nd film (or maybe even the first), it held my attention and amused me, which is more than I can say about the likes of Cars or pretty much any Dreamworks movie I've seen, so there's something. And I can still hold out hope for the TV series I wanted it to be in the first place!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The First Purge (2018)

JULY 3, 2018

GENRE: SURVIVAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

When the last Purge movie, Election Year, was in production and even when it was released, it seemed pretty unlikely we'd ever have to deal with an actual Trump presidency, but the fact that he had gotten that far was already troubling enough. Had Russia not interfered on his behalf and illegitimately gotten him elected, The First Purge might have been a different movie, but even if it was the same it likely wouldn't resonate the way it has/will. While the movie goes out of its way for a moment to make sure it's not a direct slam on the GOP (the series' "New Founding Fathers" are said to have replaced both Democrats AND Republicans), it's hard to forget it's just a fictional story (a light sci-fi one at that) when the actual government is barely any less openly racist and Nazi-esque as the one depicted in it. At least if Hillary won it'd be closer to contrast than lateral move.

As the title suggests, this is a prequel about the first time the government decided that one night a year we could break any law (read: kill people) with almost no restrictions. For the last three movies we've wondered how this all started, and now we know: as an experiment confined to Staten Island. An experiment designed by a woman, in fact - Marisa Tomei plays a psychologist of some sort who comes up with the concept in the tradition of the Stanford Prison experiment or something of that nature, with the government funding it to see if it can really help people release some of their tension and live a relatively crime-free existence for the other 364 days of the year. But as we learn about halfway through, the government doesn't really care if guys like me discover that going outside and smashing some windows or whatever will keep us from going off the rails - they want minorities and poor people to be executed en masse, and find this way is easier than, oh, I dunno, rounding them all up and deporting them. Let's hope 45 is too busy golfing to watch the film.

Our main asshole is the Chief of Staff, played by Patch Darragh (made to resemble Sean Spicer a bit), who is frustrated that no one seems particularly interested in purging at first. Apart from a guy who was already insane and probably would be out killing people that night anyway, and a pair of old (homeless?) ladies who have a grand old time lining their street with homemade bombs made out of teddy bears, the residents of Staten Island don't really seem all that excited to kill each other. Most of them just stay inside their homes or group up at a church, while the rest go so far as to throw an impromptu block party (finally, a non murder crime! We also see a guy try to rob an ATM, but he's killed, natch). So Darragh's character gets pretty pissed off and arranges to have a militia (one that includes KKK members) go in and start killing everyone they find, at which point the movie turns into a standard Purge sequel.

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised by that, since the film is once again written by James DeMonaco, who wrote and directed all of the others. He turned over directorial duties to Gerard McMurray, who is a much stronger director (this entry has more memorable images than the first three combined), but it's clear DeMonaco needs to let others handle the writing as well, as he runs out of ideas early on and even starts cribbing from himself at one point. The film's climax, where antihero Dmitri (Y'lan Noel, who we will be seeing a lot more of after this, I suspect) storms an apartment building to rescue his old flame Nya (Lex Scott Davis) is essentially the same as Purge: Anarchy's extended sequence where the (also hired) militia guys storm the apartment building where that film's protagonists were trying to hide/stay alive. It's bad enough the main complaint about the series is that it leaves so much unexplored, so when it actually starts repeating itself it's almost kind of insulting. Plus, at this point the whole "first time" element feels lost, as no one seems to be particularly shocked that this is really happening (and as always we get little slices of anonymous violence outside; shots that could be from any other entry where the Purge is an annual tradition that people are used to).

And it's a shame, because if the back half was as good as the first, it'd be far and away the best entry in the series. Our new characters aren't exactly the most unique we've ever seen; Dmitri is just another bad guy with a conscience (which extends to his crew; when one is shot and bleeding out, he insists Dmitri just let him die so he can go rescue other people - aww!), and the others are fairly stock as well. But the actors give them more life than the script asked, and we're also never torn away from their perspective to show what's happening to a couple of white idiots who decided to go shopping ten minutes before Purge started (that'd be Anarchy's "heroes"). For those two and the family in the first film, we get the sense that Purge night is the only time they're ever forced to deal with anything scarier than a brief power outage, but here we spend all our time with folks whose lives are shitty enough the rest of the year without having to worry about their government strolling into their homes and legally murdering them. Even Dmitri has some problems; he can't exactly trust anyone in his line of work and his conscience keeps eating at him - when he finds out Nya's younger brother has been working for one of his underlings, you can see he's legitimately upset about it, seeing the kid as a little brother of his own and knowing that he could be in danger.

We also get to see some of how the NFFA got things going. Again, it's just confined to Staten Island, so while we know they eventually go nationwide it's interesting to see that they didn't just spring it on the entire country at once. This gives the film a bit of an Escape from New York flair (the score even apes it directly at one point, so I suspect it's intentional), with everyone locked off and a ticking clock for our heroes' survival. Because of this limited scope, people could have just left the island prior to the bridges being closed off, so they pay these poor/desperate people five thousand bucks a piece to stick around, with added incentives for "participation". Everyone gets a pair of high tech contacts to wear for when they purge, so that they can monitor behavior (because it's a science experiment, of course), and they even survey people asking them why they'd want to purge in the first place. Some prequelitis rears its ugly head from time to time (at one point the NFFA sends drones equipped with machine gun - why did they stop using them? They're pretty useful here!), but given the low budgets of this series I think they did a good job of showing us how it could really come to the level of insanity we saw in the others.

But once the block party is abruptly canceled by the arrival of Skeletor (the aforementioned insane man who - attn Purge Wikia contributors - notches the first ever Purge kill), who starts wiping out some of the revelers, it becomes a pale retread of the other sequels for the most part, as our half dozen or so protagonists find themselves on the streets of their city that's now a war-zone, seeking shelter until the morning. Tomei's character has no part in the third act at all, and the KKK guys might have been more striking had Election Year not already used Nazis in the same context. Usually a prequel is enhanced by having seen the others, but in this case I think the movie would work better if you hadn't already seen the others (well, maybe the first, since the concept was so underutilized it barely mattered anyway). It's like they wasted good ideas and even some of the social commentary on the Grillo entries, making them seem almost second-rate here when they should be at their most meaningful. When Dmitri strangles one of the NFFA's hit squad (who is wearing a blackface faceguard) it's certainly a powerful visual and drives the message home - but it's also the 20th time we've seen someone in a Purge movie get the upper hand over the well-armed attackers out to eradicate them.

I also had trouble with its closing moments, where our survivors walk out in the morning, checking in on their neighbors and such. It's a nice moment - but it also feels a bit mean spirited, as we know that not everything will be OK. The Purge will continue to evolve and get worse for people like them, and they also now have a target on their heads after taking out some of NFFA's death squad. The optimism at the end of the third film felt right, but it didn't quite work here given its prequel nature, and instead I just felt kind of sad knowing the worst was yet to come for these folks, so it was kind of at odds with itself and also what it was trying to say. Am I to infer that good people (and, er, drug dealers) will persevere despite the seemingly insurmountable odds against them? Or that no matter what they do they will always be fucked over? If this was a proper "Purge 4" I'd find it inspiring, like in a "keep fighting the good fight" way, but given that there are at least a dozen full blown Purges ahead of them I simply find myself feeling as miserable for these fictional people as I do for our real life world.

Speaking of the real world, there's only one overt Trump reference in the film, and I wouldn't dare spoil it - I'll only point out that it's amazing, and that after the dialogue makes it clear who they're referencing I urge you to reconsider the person's headgear and where they were located. Otherwise, the only real tie to the non-fictional world we usually try to escape at the multiplexes comes from a reference to the NRA, who are (of course) the backers of the New Founding Fathers. So even though they're *not* the Republicans of today... they're pretty much just the Republicans of today (it's kind of like in Red State where they mention Fred Phelps to make it "clear" that Michael Parks' character wasn't supposed to be him). As before the heroes tend to use smaller guns and improvised weapons as opposed to the rifles used by the villains, but by mentioning the NRA so explicitly (I don't recall them coming up in the others) it tosses the subtlety of this tradition out the window.

Ultimately, it's a film that works best when it's at its least Purge-like, faltering only when it falls back on the now familiar site people walking cautiously around urban alleyways, ducking the murderers running rampant until they get to the next safe spot and the script can cut to someone else doing the same thing. I liked the characters (particularly Dolores, a cranky middle aged woman who is mostly just annoyed by the whole thing) but there are possibly too many of them this time around, and as a result the more interesting ones don't get much time to shine. Tomei in particular must not have been on set for more than a day or two, and Harris (plus his two best buds; they refer to themselves as the Three Stooges) disappears for long stretches as well. Perhaps if they sprung the NFFA rigging the experiment as a twist for the end, it would have been more consistently great. Instead, they tell us this at the halfway point, leaving the rest of the movie with very little surprise or momentum as it makes its way into its depressing outcome (that the experiment was a "success" and will continue). Again if you haven't seen the other sequels this won't be as much of an issue, but I couldn't help but be disappointed that it started out so riveting and ultimately just settled for status quo, saying everything that it had to say early on and then just letting guns do all the talking. Hopefully the upcoming TV series (previewed during the credits, which is tacky AF) or inevitable Purge 5 will be more consistently engaging.

What say you?

P.S. Per the timeline of the series, the first Purge is indeed around 2017 or 2018, but they refrain from naming an exact year. The only clue to what time period it is comes from a poster in Nya's apartment, so keep an eye out. It's a huckster move worthy of Trump himself.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Unearthed & Untold: The Path To Pet Sematary (2017)

JUNE 29, 2018

GENRE: DOCUMENTARY
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

My mom was a (casual) Constant Reader, so she would often rent the movies based on Stephen King novels when they came along, and I'd watch them because I could (as opposed to the ones I asked her to rent, like Friday the 13th sequels). I think the first I saw was (heh) Maximum Overdrive, but Pet Sematary was the first I vividly remember watching, being freaked out by Zelda like so many other kids (and adults), and of course the death of Gage was probably the most upsetting thing I had seen in a film up to that point. In fact when I had a son of my own I put it at the top of my list of movies I wouldn't watch again until he was an adult, because I worry enough without the visual reminder of how easy it is to lose your whole world if you take your eyes off him for a second. BUT, I still think highly of the film (and its source material), so I was excited to check out Unearthed & Untold, which was a labor of love documentary about the 1989 film.

Like Just Desserts, the full length documentary about Creepshow, Unearth & Untold is basically the retrospective doc you might find on a big special edition of the movie, albeit released on its own. And also like Just Desserts, they couldn't manage to land King for an interview, but they shouldn't feel bad about that - George Romero himself couldn't convince him to sit down for that one. So we have to settle for a few clips from a public speaking engagement King gave a while back to hear from him, but they got literally everyone else that's still alive: director Mary Lambert, every cast member I can think of (even the guy who played the truck driver!), the DP, the composer, the Fangoria writer who covered the production for the mag... save King, I can't imagine anyone watching this and thinking "It's a shame that _____ isn't here" (Fred Gwynne being the only other omission of note, but he died in 1993 so you'd have to be a total asshole to complain about his absence). We've all seen retrospective docs for a particular favorite film only to be disappointed that major players weren't on hand, so considering the only holdouts here are a dead guy and a guy who almost literally never does anything of the sort, the two filmmakers have really pulled off an impressive feat here.

And the film's cast and crew would suffice, but they went ahead and got a few locals who were around for the film's production (which, per King's demand, was actually shot in Maine - a rarity for the films based on his novels: for example both versions of It and Dead Zone were shot in Canada, despite being Maine-set), including the owners of the house that was used for the Crandall residence. Unlike Jaws and its notoriously dickish Martha's Vineyard residents, the locals were actually pretty accommodating and happy to house the production for the most part, and remain proud of their little piece of movie history even today. Since it's "King Country" it's sort of like a badge of honor to get one of the few Maine productions for one of his films, not to mention one that he took a more active role in than usual, adapting the screenplay himself (also rare; he adapts his short stories often but has only taken on the tough job of paring his doorstop novels down to 90-120 minutes) and contributing a cameo as the priest. I was so charmed by the people I could have happily watched a documentary just about their experiences, to hell with the actors.

This approach might have prevented, or at least softened, one of the movie's noticeable flaws: it lacks any actual footage from the film itself, using only behind the scenes and promotional stills or home video footage when film clips would traditionally be shown. I thought you could use anything under "fair use" law but perhaps there is a limit (which would obviously be exceeded in a documentary specifically about the one film), and I know Paramount is stingy about clips having heard filmmaker pals' war stories about dealing with them, so it was almost certainly a budgetary restriction, i.e. nothing I hold against the movie. But it is a bit distracting to keep hearing about this or that scene, such as the fire at the end or how they pulled off getting little Miko Hughes in the shot with the truck, without any of the finished product to hammer those points home. And this extends to the music too - Marky Ramone pops up to talk about the Ramones' legendary theme song, and we don't get to hear it. Again, this is aimed at fans of the film and so it's not like you won't know what these scenes/songs are like, but it does lead to the occasional awkward presentation.

The other thing I noted as "off" is that it lacks a narrator to guide us into a new topic, and instead the filmmakers themselves show up as talking heads to fill that role. But the things they say are obviously scripted in order to set up a particular aspect of the film ("One thing that really makes the movie stand out is the music" kind of things), so their inclusion is a bit jarring when juxtaposed with the off-the-cuff, candid interviews with everyone else. A narrator would have made more sense, I think - hell they could have tried to get Blaze Berdahl to do it, as the former Ellie Creed is now a successful voiceover artist anyway. Speaking of Blaze, Ellie was actually played by twins, with her sister Beau sharing the role, but Beau's credit was buried as if she was a stunt player or something - one of the many stories we get to hear. Ultimately that's the main draw of the movie anyway, and of course I'd rather have some funky editorial decisions than a perfectly polished movie where no one has anything interesting to say.

Indeed you hear so much (these people have great memories, I tell you) that it's a shock there was anything left, but Synapse's disc release of the film (it was available on streaming platforms last year) has another 20-25 minutes' worth of excised material, primarily other anecdotes that didn't really fit in anywhere. As it is the movie doesn't always gracefully switch topics or present everything in the most flowing nature (Heather Langenkamp pops up to talk about her husband, who did makeup on the film - but doesn't tell us that connection until the second time she appears, much later in the doc), so I'm glad they made a few snips to get it into a more manageable shape. The filmmakers also contribute an interview where they talk about the origins of the project (it took them five years to make it), along with a commentary (two, actually - there's also a podcast they did that you can play over the film? I didn't bother, but hey, it's there) and some other smaller bonus features. Long story short, the disc is definitely packed enough to get your money's worth, even if it's basically all just "disc two" material.

It's a shame that it takes so long and so many willing participants to put these kind of things together, because ideally we'd have one for pretty much every movie of note. The film was a hit when it came out (speaking of box office fortunes, its less successful sequel goes unmentioned) and is usually name checked as one of the better adaptations of King's work, so it's an obvious candidate to get this kind of treatment - but if you're a bigger fan of something like Needful Things or even Maximum Overdrive, you'll likely never get treated as well. As labors of love go, it's one of the more impressive that I've seen, and Paramount would be foolish to not try and work something out to have it packaged with the original film for a mega special edition release next year when the remake comes out (and it also celebrates its 30th birthday). If that doesn't happen, it's worth the dough to pick it up on its own, and since Synapse also released Just Desserts maybe we can start lobbying them to do some others. I think it's time Silver Bullet got its due...

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

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